Recommended gothic fiction books

Gothic fiction ordinarily combines fiction, horror, death, and romance. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Melmoth the Wanderer are good examples. Elements often found in gothic fiction include a virginal maiden, and older, foolish woman, a hero, the tyrant/villain, bandits/ruffians, clergy, a setting - usually a castle, an abbey, a monastery, or some other, usually religious edifice.

Recommended Reading

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious s...

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
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Handsome Dorian Gray has found the secret of eternal youth. As those around him age, Gray remains young and beautiful. Knowing his actions have no consequences he lives a wild life of pleasure, breaking heart after heart – including that of a young actress called Sybil Vane. Gray treats her so badly that she kills herself. But Gray has another secret – in his attic he hides a portrait of himself. While his own body remains fit and healthy, the image in the portrait becomes older and more disfigured with each debauched act he commits. When the portraits creator, Basil Hallward, discovers the horrific truth, Gray kills him in a fit of rage. While Hallward may no longer be a concern, Gray’s own life may be in danger from Sybil’s brother, James Vane, who still blames him for his sister’s suicide and begins vengefully stalking the young pleasure-seeker. Terrified that his life is spiralling out of control, Gray vows to give up his wanton ways, and especially not to mistreat his latest conquest, innocent Hetty Merton. As his behaviour improves Gray expects the painting to begin returning to its original state – so is horrified to find it even more grotesque. Can Gray find any way out of his nightmare?

"A key example of Gothic horror fiction, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s only novel and a classic of modern literature. It was originally published in a shorter version in Lippinscott’s Monthly Magazine, an American literary journal, in 1890, then revised and published in book form in 1891. Upon publication, its portrayal of moral decadence and its strong homoerotic undertones caused controversy and ensured that the book was poorly received by readers at the time." Fantasy Book Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray is available as a free ebook

The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake
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"A gorgeous volcanic eruption... A work of extraordinary imagination" New Yorker

"The Gormenghast Trilogy is one of the most important works of the imagination to come out of this age" Spectator

"Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy has grown out of its reputation as a cult classic and into the mainstream of fantasy, as a book no reader interested in Gothic dare to miss. It is one of the most distinctive, absorbing and wonderfully strange books ever written" Adam Roberts

Titus, heir to Lord Sepulchrave, has just been born: he stands to inherit the miles of rambling stone and mortar that stand for Gormenghast Castle. Inside, all events are predetermined by a complex ritual, lost in history, understood only by Sourdust, Lord of the Library. There are tears and strange laughter; fierce births and deaths beneath umbrageous ceilings; dreams and violence and disenchantment contained within a labyrinth of stone.

Dracula by Bram Stoker
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When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman's neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the imminent arrival of his 'Master'.

"In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count Dracula and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre. Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of diary entries and letters. Literary critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and conservative sexuality, immigration, colonialism, postcolonialism and folklore. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical and film interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries." Fantasy Book Review

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
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Murder and monstrosity on the streets of Victorian London. Nineteenth century London can be a very dangerous place. Beneath the prim and proper morals of Victorian society lurks a violent madman who emerges at night to commit the most cold-hearted of crimes. Nothing is known of him except his name: Mr Hyde. Just who is this evil man? A lawyer and a doctor beginning their own investigation are shocked to find that Mr Hyde is an acquaintance of their respectable friend Dr Henry Jekyll. Worse still, Dr Jekyll is unwilling to listen to stories of Hyde’s chilling behaviour, and retreats into his laboratory work when confronted. But as the months turn to years and the violence turns to ruthless murder on London’s streets, Dr Jekyll is finally forced to confront the chaos, and to admit that he can no longer hide from Mr Hyde.

"As would seem fitting for a tale as strange as this, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde comes with a number of literary legends attached. One states that gruesome scenes from the story first appeared to Stevenson as nightmares. Another suggests that the impetuous author torched the first full draft after criticism from his wife. Neither myth may be true. The only certainty is that Stevenson’s book very cleverly captured the clear contradictions of Victorian society, demonstrating the awful consequences of keeping man’s natural animal instincts locked away beneath the strict ideas of ‘decency’. Jekyll and Hyde is a terrifying glimpse into the dark depths of the mind."

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is available as a free ebook

The Hound of the D'Urbervilles by Kim Newman
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Imagine the twisted evil twins of Holmes and Watson and you have the dangerous duo of Professor James Moriarty – wily, snake-like, fiercely intelligent, terrifyingly unpredictable – and Colonel Sebastian “Basher” Moran – violent, politically incorrect, debauched. Together they run London crime, owning police and criminals alike. A one-stop shop for all things illegal, from murder to high-class heists, Moriarty and Moran have a stream of nefarious visitors to their Conduit Street rooms, from the Christian zealots of the American West, to the bloodthirsty Si Fan and Les Vampires of Paris, as well as a certain Miss Irene Adler...

"Newman has once again produced a fantastically entertaining and fulfilling re-imagining of popular fictional characters, putting them into adventures of his own imagining, whilst succeeding in being both reverential as well as mischievous." Daniel Cann, Fantasy Book Review

Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth by Chris Priestley
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A boy is put on a train by his stepmother to make his first journey on his own. But soon that journey turns out to be more of a challenge than anyone could have imagined as the train stalls at the mouth of a tunnel and a mysterious woman in white helps the boy while away the hours by telling him stories - stories with a difference.

"Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth will chill and thrill in equal measure and is the perfect kind of scary for children in that it will make the hairs on the back of their necks rise and send shivers down their spine but will not give them nightmares. Delectably dark, and with a beautiful gothic style (perfectly captured by David Robert’s illustrations), this is a book that will appeal to all ages." Fantasy Book Review

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
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What you create can destroy you. One freezing morning, a lone man wandering across the Artic ice caps is rescued from starvation by a ship's captain. Victor Frankenstein's story is one of ambition, murder and revenge. As a young scientist he pushed moral boundaries in order to cross the final frontier and create life. But his creation is a monster stitched together from grave-robbed body parts who has no place in the world, and his life can only lead to tragedy.

"Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, generally known as Frankenstein, is a novel written by the British author Mary Shelley. The title of the novel refers to a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who learns how to create life and creates a being in the likeness of man, but larger than average and more powerful. In popular culture, people have tended to refer to the Creature as "Frankenstein", despite this being the name of the scientist. Frankenstein is a novel infused with some elements of the Gothic novel and the Romantic movement. It was also a warning against the "over-reaching" of modern man and the Industrial Revolution, alluded to in the novel's subtitle, The Modern Prometheus. The story has had an influence across literature and popular culture and spawned a complete genre of horror stories and films."

Frankenstein is available as a free ebook

White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick
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Winterfold, a place of crumbling cliff paths, deserted churches and ruined graveyards, forms the backdrop for Marcus Sedgwick's latest work, White Crow, a contemporary gothic thriller for young-adults. Rebecca is an unwilling visitor to Winterfold during a long, hot, claustrophobic summer and, against her better judgement, befriends local resident Ferelith. The two girls discover more about each other (and about Winterfold) than either really want to, uncovering frightening secrets that would be best left long forgotten.

"White Crow is an intelligent and thoughtful book whose themes of afterlife, faith and death - both human mortality and the demise of a town itself – are explored delicately. Two strong female leads drive a story that is both chilling and memorable in equal measure. Highly recommended." Fantasy Book Review

This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel
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In this prequel to Mary Shelley’s gothic classic, Frankenstein, 16-year-old Victor Frankenstein begins a dark journey that will change his life forever. Victor’s twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor is able to cure him. Unwilling to give up on his brother, Victor enlists his beautiful cousin Elizabeth and best friend Henry on a treacherous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, dangerous alchemy and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn. Victor knows he must not fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love – and how much he is willing to sacrifice.

"My assessment of this book is that it is excellent, well written and true to the original. Oppel has captured Victor’s voice in such a way that his journey into the darkness of the original book is both believable and inevitable because of his character and the choices that he makes. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who has read and enjoyed the original." Fantasy Book Review

The Scholar's Tale by Reggie Oliver
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Bram Stoker's immortal Dracula told us about Count Dracula as an undead vampire. But how did this come to be? Who was Dracula in real life? There has always been speculation, but The Dracula Papers now offers the ultimate answer. It takes us back to the year 1576, to the wild land of Transylvania and to the early life of Prince Vladimir who came to be the horror known as Dracula.

"So, I've read Sookie Stackhouse, and I've read the Twilight Saga, I watched Buffy, Being Human, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries. While I honestly admit to enjoying them, (except the Twilight movies, seriously people), it seems that the market is becoming oversaturated with angst-ridden, over-sexed vampires, and there’s only so much crazy eyed Vampness a girl can take (yes, Damon Salvatore, I mean you). So, let’s get back to where it all started - old school Gothic tales set during the early years of everyone’s favourite Vampire, Count Dracula. This is a chunky book, 470 pages to be precise, and I was a little daunted at first, but, from the moment I started reading I literally could not put the book down." Helen Greenwood, Fantasy Book Review

The Toymaker by Jeremy de Quidt
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What good is a toy that will wind down? What if you could put a heart in one? A real heart. One that beat and beat and didn't stop. What couldn't you do if you could make a toy like that? From the moment Mathias becomes the owner of a mysterious piece of paper, he is in terrible danger. Entangled in devious plots and pursued by the sinister Doctor Leiter and his devilish toys, Mathias finds himself on a quest to uncover a deadly secret.

"The Toymaker is an excellent book, one of very few that I wish were longer, and the book’s ending is as chilling as it is unexpected. A superb debut in which everything fits together like a jigsaw." Floresiensis, Fantasy Book Review

When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord
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A small, quiet Midwestern town, unremarkable save for one fact: when the local teenagers reach a certain age, they run wild. When Lumen Fowler looks back on her childhood, she is surprised that she became a kind suburban wife, a devoted mother. In fact, she never thought she would escape her home town. When We Were Animals is Lumen's confessional: as a teenager, she fell beneath the sway of her community's darkest, strangest secret. For one year, beginning at puberty, every resident breaches during the full moon. On these nights, adolescents run wild, destroying everything in their path. For as long as she can, Lumen resists. Promising her father she will never breach, she investigates the mystery of her community's traditions and the stories erased from the town record. But the more we learn about the town's past, the more we realize that Lumen's memories are harbouring secrets of their own.

"The writing is beautiful: poetic and vivid and this includes the dialogue. This is a book you just need to sit down and read, allow the words to wash over you and experience Lumen’s extraordinarily eventful life. It will stay with you long after the last page is finished."

Infernal by Mark de Jager
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Stratus wakes alone, with no memory of his past. All he knows is his name and that he is not human. Possessing immense strength, powerful sorcery and an insatiable hunger, he sets out across a landscape torn apart by a war, as a dark magic drives the world to the brink of destruction. Disoriented and pursued relentlessly by enemies, he will have to learn what he truly is, or risk bringing the world into ruin...

[quote]I for one am eager to read more from the author – newcomer Mark de Jager. As a writer he has a flair for this type of story, and I can see him taking the character of Stratus far. If you enjoy the likes of Joe Abercrombie, this is definitely a book to check out and an author to keep an eye on.[/quote]

[quote-source]- Fantasy Book Review[/quote-source]

Golgotha Falls: Genesis by George Udenkwo
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Golgotha Falls: A city of carnal nightmare and monstrous appetite, nowhere in all the worlds of empire will you find its equal. Forged from dark science and steeped in ancient myth, it is a city ruled by ancient gods and policed by angels, where your every desire can be satiated and your every terror made flesh. Here in this sweating, convulsive metropolis of ninety million souls, the spider-god Desdemona, is the most feared of all the city's deities. Sixteen spell-binding tales unfold the chronicles of this new age medusa, a hero unlike any you have ever encountered before.

"There is obviously a lot of George Udenkwo in Golgotha Falls, all of his inspirations, loves, favourite books and films. There are lashings of Norse, Greek and Roman mythology. Udenkwo’s intelligence and passion come through clearly in his work – he is also an author of frightening imagination. The book made me use my brain and gave me the inclination to further research the figures of mythology mentioned in the tales. I would happily recommend George Udenkwo and Golgotha Falls to readers who enjoy a fine mixture of science and fantasy in their books. Golgotha Falls is a stunning debut from an author of exceptional imagination." Fantasy Book Review

Never The Bride by Paul Magrs
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Brenda has had a long and eventful life, and she has come to Whitby to run a B&B and enjoy some peace and quiet. She and her best friend Effie like nothing better than going out for tea and keeping their eyes open for mysterious goings on in town. And what with satanic beauty salons, roving psychic investigators and the frankly terrifying owner of the Christmas Hotel there's plenty to watch. But the oddest thing in Whitby may well be Brenda herself. With her terrible scars, her strange lack of a surname and the fact that she takes two different shoe sizes, Brenda should know that people as, well, unique as she is just aren't destined for a quiet life.

"I really enjoyed this quite unusual gothic horror alternative fantasy story set in such unassuming surroundings, particularly when the main character, Brenda, is a story in herself. If you want to try something a bit different, give this a go." Cat Fitzpatrick, Fantasy Book Review

The Fallen Series by Lauren Kate
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Instant. Intense. Weirdly familiar... The moment Luce looks at Daniel she knows she has never felt like this before. Except she can't shake the feeling that she has... and with him - a boy she doesn't remember ever setting eyes on. Will her attempt to find out why enlighten her - or destroy her?

"The author writes beautifully about the angels… their wings… every angel seemed to have a different kind of wing pattern and when they are tucked away and then unfolded again… it was quite magical. I totally loved this story. It was sort of oddly spiritual. I know that the author has planned two more within this series. I cannot wait to read them." Patty, Fantasy Book Review

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
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Harrison is a lonely teenager, afraid of water ever since a boating accident as a toddler. And he and his mother have just moved to the worst possible place: Dunnsmouth, a Lovecraftian town on the Atlantic coast. When his mother disappears, Harrison tries to solve the mystery, putting him in conflict with a strange church, a killer, and the Deep Ones... It will take all his resources - and an unusual host of allies - to defeat the danger and find his mother.

"I really enjoyed this book, if you enjoyed Daryl Gregory’s other book Afterparty then you will probably like Harrison Squared as well."

Such Wicked Intent by Kenneth Oppel
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When does obsession become madness? Tragedy has forced sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein to swear off alchemy forever. He burns the Dark Library. He vows he will never dabble in the dark sciences again, just as he vows he will no longer covet Elizabeth, his brother's betrothed. If only these things were not so tempting. When Victor and Elizabeth discover a portal into the spirit world, they cannot resist. Together with their friend Henry, they venture into a place of infinite possibilities where power and passion reign. But as they search for the knowledge to raise the dead, they unknowingly unlock a darkness from which they may never return.

"Victor is a solid central character, eminently dislikeable of course, but that is part of the charm – wanting to see what happens to him. However, what sets Kenneth Oppel apart in this genre is his ability to write scenes that the reader can become totally immersed in. I loved the alternate Chateau Frankenstein and the mysteries that it contains. The butterflies and the strange noises from below the keep add to the tension and there are enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged the whole way through." Daniel Cann, Fantasy Book Review

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
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What Eden Moore digs up in the roots of her diseased family tree takes her across the South, from the ruins of the Pine Breeze sanitarium in Tennessee to a corpse-filled swamp in Florida, and back in time to the Civil War, when the taint in her family bloodline sets in motion events building only now to a supernatural crescendo.

"Cherie Priest's ability to write in such an easy manner make reading this southern gothic a complete pleasure. What Eden Moore digs up in the roots of her diseased family tree takes her across the South, from the ruins of the Pine Breeze sanatorium in Tennessee to a corpse-filled swamp in Florida, and back in time to the Civil War, when the taint in her family bloodline sets in motion events building only now to a supernatural crescendo." Laurel Kriegler, Fantasy Book Review

Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino
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When the nanny to the young Darrow boys is found murdered on the outskirts of Blackfield, Charlotte Markham, the recently hired governess, steps in to take over their care. During an outing in the forest, they find themselves crossing over into The Ending, the place for the Things That Cannot Die, where Lily Darrow, the late mistress of Everton, has been waiting. She invites them into the ominous House of Darkling, a wondrous, dangerous place filled with enchantment, mystery and strange creatures that appear to be, but are not quite, human. However, everything comes with a price, and as Charlotte begins to understand the unspeakable bargain Mrs. Darrow has made for a second chance at motherhood, she uncovers a connection to the sinister occurrences in Blackfield and enters into a deadly game with the master of Darkling, one whose outcome will determine not just the fate of the Darrows, but of the world itself.

"As far as a debut goes, this is one of the better that I have read so far. I was pleased with how everything was just enough; the descriptions and actions of the inhabitants of the House of Darkling could have been overdone but this was reined in and just enough to keep up the curiosity. The book is well written and reads away easily. Although Michael Boccacino tries to steer you in the book, there was no force pushing me, and did not at all feel limited in indulging me into the book." Daniel Cann, Fantasy Book Review

Incubus by Carol Goodman
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Ever since moving to Fairwick to take up a teaching post at the local college, Callie has been having vivid, erotic dreams about a man made out of moonlight and shadows. Dreams she begins to fear as well as anticipate... She learns that her home - a Victorian cottage at the edge of a wood she bought on a whim - is supposedly haunted. And then her new - and rather strange - colleagues tell her a local legend about an incubus demon with a human past who was enchanted by a fairy queen...

"These days we are surrounded by supernatural romance. Its popularity is understandable and undoubtedly irresistible due to the time honoured enjoyment of dark romance and gothic fiction that surfaces every now and again into a new generation. The enjoyment comes from our deep rooted fantasies and simply gaining pleasure from the combination of terror and lust. The feeling is manipulative and reveals the undisclosed desires that most of us didn’t know existed. Addictive is definitely the word for it..." Penelope Glen, Fantasy Book Review

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
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London, 1862. A city of over three million souls, of stinking fog and dark, winding streets. Through these streets walks the poet Christina Rossetti, haunted and tormented by the ghost of her uncle, John Polidori. Without him, she cannot write, but her relationship with him threatens to shake London itself to the ground. Victorian London is a city of dreadful delight. But it is the history of a hidden city, where nursery rhymes lead the adventurer through haunted tunnels and inverted spires. And where the price of poetic inspiration is blood.

"My overall impression is this is a strong ghost-come-vampire novel, which should appease existing Powers fans, but might confuse newcomers. Perhaps when I read the prequel ‘The Stress of Her Regard’ (released in September) I will have a greater appreciation and understanding of this one." Daniel Cann, Fantasy Book Review

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr Spencer Black by EB Hudspeth
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Philadelphia, the late 1870s. A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages - and home to the controversial surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a grave robber, young Dr. Black studies at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts - mermaids, minotaur's, and satyrs - were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind?

"It is a little thin on story, but that is perhaps a deliberate ploy to make Black more enigmatic and mysterious. Suffice to say, I read this quickly and was hooked throughout. This is a Gothic, tragic, and at times, shocking work of fiction. The artwork is beautiful as well as thought provoking; Hudspeth should be applauded for tackling a controversial subject of vivisectionist work and science against the backdrop of a highly moralistic society. Genius to madness has been covered before, but this is a moving and understated work where the realms of myth and fantasy meet the real world." Daniel Cann, Fantasy Book Review

Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin
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This violent, profound, baroque and blackly humorous novel is the story of Melmoth, who has sold his soul in exchange for immortality in a satanic bargain, and now preys on the helpless in their darkest moments, offering to ease their suffering if they will take his place and release him from his centuries of tortured wanderings. Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) blended Gothic fiction and psychological realism to create a work of hallucinatory power.

The Monk by Matthew Lewis
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The Monk, written by 19 year old Matthew Lewis in 1796, is one of the classic 18th Century gothic novels - famously mentioned in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey - and has had a significant influence on the genre due to its convoluted plot, salacious content and a vast array of gothic imagery.

"Don’t expect a stunning work of fiction that powerfully details one man’s fall from grace. However, like a fun B movie, the riotous action and convenient plot twists, along with more nuns than you can shake a (blood-stained) wimple at, mean that I would suggest that fans of the gothic genre give it a go, particularly as it has inspired so much subsequent writings."

Winter's Reach by Craig Schaefer
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Pope Benignus is dying, and the man who takes his throne will hold the reins of an empire. Conspiracies swirl like shadows around Livia, the pope's daughter, who refuses to be anyone's pawn: chasing the whispers of a deadly coup, she vows to expose the truth and save her church from disaster. Livia has secrets of her own, though, and one wrong move could cost her life and her soul. Felix is the scion of a dying merchant house, a man with just one chance to save his family and the woman he loves. His last hope lies in the snowbound hell of Winter's Reach, a former prison colony turned "free city" under a brutal tyrant's reign. Livia and Felix have never crossed paths, but they've both been snared in a far greater web than they can imagine. They - along with a pair of veteran bounty hunters, an exiled politician, and a sadistic coven of witches - are cogs in one man's apocalyptic plan for revenge. A plan that, if it succeeds, will leave an entire nation in flames.

"This book is the first of 4 completed stories in the Revanche Cycle saga. The finale here is pretty great but don't expect closure. It sets the sides and leads to a few gems of what may happen in The Instruments of Control. To conclude, a stunning dark fantasy narrative with all the double-crossing, deceit, blackmail and political chaos you could hope for. A great find in my #SPFBO group. It will take something truly stunning to beat this. Note- I'm pretty sure all 4 of these books cost a combined total of £8.00 on Amazon."

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